“The thing I’d like to tell all students who are suffering mental health issues is: you’re not alone. You’re not the only one,” says Alexandra Pop, 19. When the pandemic began a year ago and her home country of Romania entered a strict lockdown, it didn’t take long for her to start feeling poorly. “We weren’t allowed to go outside at all. I was tired all the time and felt more sombre every day. I went to see a psychologist and was told that I was having ‘symptoms of mild depression’.” A year onwards, she still feels that way occasionally, so Alexandra still talks to her psychologist quite regularly.
Feeling tired and overworked all the time – Razan recognises these symptoms. “I no longer have enough energy to study, so I keep putting off the work. That only increases the stress. And I’m not having any distractions, either. My studies are my life. All I do all day every day is stare at a screen.” Razan suspects that her fellow students are experiencing the same. Whereas initially, she saw enthusiastic and highly motivated students when she attended her online seminars, she now sees tired faces. Razan, too, has been talking to a therapist. “And it helps so much. I’m better able to get some perspective on my situation.”
Giving people some perspective is exactly what Razan seeks to do with her Instagram account (@safe.spaceee), where she provides more information on mental health. Razan holds up her hands while trying to explain what prompted her to establish the account. “If all your fingers are encountering a problem, if you press all these fingers or problems together and keep them in front of your eyes, you won’t be able to see a thing. Give yourself a little more room and a little more perspective and you can start working on getting well.” When she read this metaphor, the idea of establishing the account was born. “I lived in Iraq for many years. Mental health issues ‘don’t exist’ there. They are completely ignored. And if you don’t know that anything is wrong, you can’t work on resolving the issue.”
Razan was profoundly shocked when she learned last autumn that a fellow student of hers had committed suicide. “Just imagine how lonely you must feel to do that.” But she, too, would like to emphasise that you’re not alone. If you have a better understanding of your psyche, you will be better able to recognise and discuss negative feelings or anxiety sooner. Alexandra and Razan both think these are the first steps in the right direction. “In Romania, too, therapy is a taboo in many places,” says Romanian Alexandra. “My family said to me: you’re a teenager. This is normal, and it will pass. But actually, you need to seek help.”